Freelancers / Interviews / Journalists / Writers

Balancing the Grind With Jessica Mudditt, Freelance Journalist & Writer

Jessica Mudditt is a freelance business and lifestyle journalist who has written for The Economist, The Telegraph UK, CNN, GQ, Australian Geographic, and many more publications.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a freelance business and lifestyle journalist and my work has been published by CNN, The Economist, GQ, CEO Magazine, Australian Geographic and a host of other business publications like Westpac Wire, plus the parenting site Essential Baby.

I love the variety of being a freelancer, as well as the autonomy and flexibility it provides.

I started out studying Arts/Law at Monash, even though I knew it was wrong for me. I travelled for a year and realised it was journalism I really wanted to pursue. I studied at night school and was accredited as a newspaper journalist in London in 2009.

However, I struggled to get beyond unpaid internships, so I moved to Bangladesh and did a six-month internship at an English language newspaper. I ended up staying there for three years (and eventually went freelance and married my translator!).

Sherpa and I moved to Myanmar in 2012 and I worked at The Myanmar Times and the state-run newspaper. Five years later, we moved to Sydney – we are settled now and there will be no more moving! That last move was in 2016 and I’ve been a freelance journalist virtually ever since.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

A workday looks like this: I work on my manuscript (a memoir about living in Myanmar) using Scrivener from 6am to 7am, before heading to the gym around the corner.

I’m home by 7.40 for a quick brekkie and then I drop my baby girl off at childcare, grab a coffee and head home to start working. I’ll spend the day doing a combination of feature writing, interviewing sources and pitching ideas to editors.

My alarm goes off at 4:40pm when it’s time to pick up Olivia. That’s when my work day ends. Sometimes it feels like the day lasted five minutes – I guess that’s a good thing.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

It sure does. As a freelancer I can work anywhere – but ironically, I don’t want to. I love my study at home because everything is just the way I like it.

I think I’d feel self-conscious doing phone interviews at cafes or libraries and the noise would mess with the recordings. Plus I have a printer next to me for reading over my work (I’m old school like that) and my cat is here too – she sleeps in the heated bed behind me.

It’s great that I can work from my parents’ house in Melbourne though, as I like to go for frequent visits.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

My Google calendar is a mass of colour blocks. Navy blue is for deadlines, light blue is for the article I’m writing that day and interviews are in yellow.

I have reminders for everything in my calendar four hours before it happens, and in the morning I set off a series of alarms on my phone. The alarm goes off ten minutes before an interview starts, and then a minute before. That way I can focus fully on writing and not watching the clock, but am always ready to go at the right time.

If I have a huge article to write and not a lot of time, I will also set a ‘progress alarm’ at around the three hour mark. That stops me procrastinating and also calms me. I just throw myself into the writing without getting flustered about the lack of time, knowing that I will check in with myself when the alarm buzzes and freak out then if necessary.

I guess all these alarms are another reason I’m unfit for a café!

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think it means not being so harried that I stop enjoying my work, or am distracted around my family. I want to be there to watch Olivia grow and learn, and that means not working excessive hours.

As a freelancer, I am in control of my hours, so it’s up to me to get the right balance. It isn’t easy and it’s always a work in progress, but I think that becoming a parent has helped me better prioritise competing demands. I have had to accept that there are only so many hours in the day.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I think it would be not checking my emails in the evening. I used to do it but found that I’d get wound up and have a rough night’s sleep, which would then mess with my ability to deal with whatever it was the following day. I figure that if I’m not going to respond to an email after 5pm, why read it?

Of course, sometimes the Gmail notification pops up and I see an email or two, but I definitely don’t actively check or reply to emails. And I don’t feel guilty about it either, because I think not blurring my evenings with work stuff makes me more focused during the day.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

So many books! I read every night on my Kindle and buy an enormous number of books. Some of my favourites include those that inspired me to follow my career with passion, achieve a better balance, learn a new philosophy on life, or influenced my style of writing.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I have a bullet journal on my desk that contains my to-do list and if I don’t complete something, I carry it over to the next day. If it’s really important, I highlight it.

Crossing things out at various times of the day spurs me on to get other things done. I also add to it outside of work hours – writing something down stops me stressing about it, because if it’s on the list, it will get done.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

An expert in executive leadership I recently interviewed said that there is now a lot of brain science around the impact of overwork on people who work in strategic and creative roles.

It can reduce productivity by as much as 40 per cent. So there really is no point in working too much, because you won’t get the best out of yourself. Now that I understand that, I am more disciplined about not giving myself brain fry.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.